Yojimbo (film)

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Yojimbo
Yojimbo (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced byRyuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written byRyuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
StarringToshiro Mifune
Tatsuya Nakadai
Yoko Tsukasa
Isuzu Yamada
Music byMasaru Sato
CinematographyKazuo Miyagawa
Takao Saito
Editing byAkira Kurosawa
StudioToho Studios
Distributed byToho
Release datesApril 25, 1961 (1961-04-25)
Running time110 minutes
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
 
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Yojimbo
Yojimbo (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced byRyuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written byRyuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
StarringToshiro Mifune
Tatsuya Nakadai
Yoko Tsukasa
Isuzu Yamada
Music byMasaru Sato
CinematographyKazuo Miyagawa
Takao Saito
Editing byAkira Kurosawa
StudioToho Studios
Distributed byToho
Release datesApril 25, 1961 (1961-04-25)
Running time110 minutes
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese

Yojimbo (用心棒 Yōjinbō?) is a 1961 jidaigeki (period drama) film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It tells the story of a ronin, portrayed by Toshiro Mifune, who arrives in a small town where competing crime lords vie for supremacy. The two bosses each try to hire the deadly newcomer as a bodyguard (yojimbo in Japanese).

Based on the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa's Sanjuro of 1962 was altered to feature a very similar lead character.

The film has been remade several times, see "Influence," below.

Plot[edit]

The film is set in 1860, near the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.[citation needed] A ronin wanders into a small town being ruined by a gang war between Seibei and Ushitora. Ushitora used to be Seibei's right hand man, until Seibei decided that his son Yoichiro would succeed him. Tazaemon, the silk merchant and mayor, backs Seibei, while Tokuemon the sake brewer is allied with Ushitora. Gonji, a restaurant proprietor, advises the stranger to leave while he can, but after sizing up the situation, the stranger tells Gonji that the town would be better off with both sides dead, and that he intends to do the job.

The ronin first convinces the weaker Seibei to hire him as a swordsman by demonstrating his skill, killing three of Ushitora's men. He eavesdrops on Seibei's wife Orin ordering their son to stab him in the back after their victory so they will not have to pay him. The ronin then provokes the two factions into attacking each other (while he stands back and watches), but the untimely arrival of an official spoils his plan before any blood is shed. Seibei and Ushitora keep an uneasy peace to avoid attracting government notice.

When the two factions decide to settle their differences, the ronin stirs things up again. Learning that Ushitora hired two assassins to kill an officer many miles away to get the government official to leave, the ronin captures and sells the pair to Seibei. Then he tells Ushitora that Seibei's men have caught them. Alarmed, Ushitora hires him. Ushitora has Yoichiro kidnapped and offers an exchange of prisoners, but double crosses Seibei, having his brother Unosuke shoot the assassins with the only firearm in town, his beloved pistol, when they are brought to be traded. The wily Seibei, however, has taken a beautiful woman that Tokuemon is infatuated with. The woman is swapped for Yoichiro.

Gonji informs the ronin that the woman is the wife of a farmer named Kohei. Ushitora seized her and Kohei's home as payment for a gambling debt. He then gave her to Tokuemon to gain his support.

The ronin kills all six guards assigned to the woman and reunites her with her husband and son. He gives them the money Ushitora paid him and tells them to leave town. However, Unosuke becomes suspicious of his claim that Seibei's men are responsible and uncovers the ronin's double dealing. The stranger is beaten in an attempt to find out where the woman is hiding.

When the ronin manages to escape, Ushitora decides to eliminate Seibei once and for all. He succeeds in wiping out the opposing gang. With the help of Gonji, the ronin recuperates in hiding. However, when he learns that Gonji has been caught while bringing food and medicine, he returns to town to confront the remainder of Ushitora's men. Unosuke and his pistol are a dangerous combination, but the ronin manages to kill them all, sparing only one terrified young man he had encountered at the beginning of the film, who had run away from a boring, poverty-stricken life as a farmer. Then, the ronin leaves town.

Inspirations[edit]

Kurosawa stated that a major source for the plot was the 1942 film noir classic The Glass Key, an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's 1931 novel. It has been noted that the overall plot of Yojimbo is closer to that of another Hammett novel, Red Harvest (1929).[1] Kurosawa scholar David Desser, and film critic Manny Farber claim that Red Harvest was the inspiration for the film; however, Donald Richie and other scholars believe the similarities are coincidental.[2]

When asked his name, the samurai calls himself "Kuwabatake Sanjuro" (meaning "mulberry field thirty-year-old"), which he seems to make up while looking at a mulberry field by the town. Thus, the character can be viewed as an early example of the "Man with No Name" (other examples of which appear in a number of earlier novels, including Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest[3]).

The characters —the taciturn loner and the helpless townsfolk needing a protector— are reminiscent of Kurosawa's own Seven Samurai (1954).

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Many of the actors in Yojimbo worked with Kurosawa before and after, especially Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Tatsuya Nakadai.

After Kurosawa scolded Mifune for arriving late to the set one morning, Mifune made it a point to be ready on set at 6:00 AM every day in full makeup and costume.[4]

At one point the hero, beaten, disarmed and left for dead, recovers in a small hut where he practices with his throwing knife by pinning a fluttering leaf. This effect was created by reversing the film: in reality, the leaf was pinned, the knife yanked away by a wire, and the leaf blown away.

This was the second film where director Akira Kurosawa worked with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa.

Influence[edit]

Yojimbo ranked at #95 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.[5] Both in Japan and the West, Yojimbo had a considerable influence on various forms of entertainment.

In 1962, Kurosawa directed Sanjuro, in which Mifune returns as a ronin who claims to have the same given name, Sanjuro (meaning "thirty-year-old man") but he takes a different "surname". In both films, he takes his surname from the plants he happens to be looking at when asked his name.

Western-influencing cinematography; Toshiro Mifune as a lone hero in wide framing

In 1964, Yojimbo was remade as A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood in his first appearance as the Man with No Name. Leone and his production company failed to secure the remake rights to Kurosawa's film, resulting in a lawsuit that delayed Fistful's release in North America for three years. In Yojimbo, the protagonist defeats a man who carries a gun, while he carries only a knife and a sword; in the equivalent scene in Fistful, Eastwood's pistol-wielding character survives being shot by a rifle by hiding an iron plate under his clothes to serve as a shield against bullets.

The 1970 film Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo also features Mifune as a similar character. It is the twentieth of a series of movies featuring the blind swordsman Zatoichi. Although Mifune is clearly not playing the same man (his name is Daisaku Sasa, and his personality and background are different in many key respects), the movie's title and some of its content do intend to suggest the image of the two iconic jidaigeki characters confronting each other. Incident at Blood Pass, made in the same year, also stars Mifune in a role similar to that of Yojimbo.

Mifune's character became the model for John Belushi's Samurai Futaba character on Saturday Night Live.[6]

In The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984), the mercenary warrior Kain (David Carradine) sets rival warlords Zeg and Balcaz against each other in a battle over a town's only well. The action is set on Ura, a desert planet with two suns.

Last Man Standing (1996), a Prohibition-era gangster thriller directed by Walter Hill and starring Bruce Willis, is an officially authorized remake of Yojimbo.

At the closing of Episode XXIII of the animated series Samurai Jack, a triumphant Jack walks off alone in a scene (and accompanied by music) influenced by the closing scene and music of Yojimbo. In Episode XXVI, Jack confronts a gang who destroyed his sandals, using Clint Eastwood's lines from A Fistful of Dollars, but substituting 'footwear' for 'mule.' The influence of Yojimbo in particular (and Kurosawa films in general) on the animated series has been noted by Matthew Millheiser at DVDtalk.[7]

More recently, both Lucky Number Slevin and Sukiyaki Western Django have the plot of a loner caught between two warring gang bosses.

Indian movies Pokiri and Soldier have also borrowed heavily from the ronin archetype, who plays both sides of the antagonists and then eliminate both the parties.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Desser, David (1983). "Towards a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film". Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Print) (Redgrave Publishing Company) 8.1: 33. ISSN 0146-0013. 
  2. ^ Barra, Allen (2005). "From Red Harvest to Deadwood". Salon. 
  3. ^ Dashiell Hammett. Red Harvest. ISBN 0-679-72261-0. 
  4. ^ Peary, Gerald (June 6, 1986). "Toshiro Mifune". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2013-04-30. "One day Kurosawa said, 'I won't mention names, but the actors are late.' I said. 'What are you talking about? I'm the actor.' Every day after that, when Kurosawa arrived, I would be there already, in costume and makeup from 6 a.m. I showed him." 
  5. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Bauer Media Group. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2011. 
  6. ^ Barra, Allen (17 August 2010). "That Nameless Stranger, Half a Century Later". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "Matthew Millheiser at DVDtalk". 

External links[edit]